President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, set the tone early Tuesday during what House Democrats billed as a debut impeachment hearing.
“I will be as sincere in my answers as this committee is in its questions,” Lewandowski said toward the end of his opening statement.
It turned out that Lewandowski, who already has testified to Congress three times and met extensively with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators, had less to say.
The White House invoked executive privilege so that Lewandowski would say no more about his conversations with Trump than was contained in Mueller’s final report or had been publicly reported.
This outraged House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.
“I think we should call this what this is: an absolute cover-up by the White House,” Nadler said.
“We received a letter from the White House yesterday that they will not let you answer any questions beyond what you told the special counsel and beyond what was publicly released,” Nadler said. “The White House’s instruction to you is based on a bogus claim of executive privilege, even though you did not work a single day for the administration, let alone in the executive branch.”
The special counsel’s probe determined that neither Trump nor anyone in his campaign conspired with Russian entities to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
However, many Democrats say they want to impeach Trump for obstruction of justice.
Mueller did not make a final determination as to whether Trump obstructed his investigation.
One of 10 examples of possible obstruction in his report, however, said that Trump asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2017 to limit the probe only to how to prevent Russian meddling in future elections. Lewandowski never delivered the message to Sessions, the report said.
Unlike in past impeachment hearings, such as those targeting Presidents Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton, the House has not approved a formal impeachment inquiry. However, Nalder said his committee is conducting impeachment proceedings.
Here are key moments from the opening day of what he called an impeachment hearing, where lawmakers covered little to no new ground.
1. ‘Don’t Have It in Front of Me’
Neither Nadler nor Lewandowski had the Mueller report handy at the hearing. The White House parameters of what Lewandowski could talk about was based in part on what was in the Mueller report.
For Lewandowski, who managed Trump’s campaign during the Republican presidential primary season, this provided a means to delay answering questions. For Nadler, it meant fumbling to ask questions.
“Is it correct that as reported in the Mueller report on June 19, 2017, you met alone in the Oval Office with the president?” Nadler asked.
Lewandowski replied: “Is there a book and page number you can reference to? I don’t have a copy of the report in front of me.”
Nadler knew this much, answering: “Volume 2, page 90. I simply asked you is it correct that as reported in the Mueller report [that] on June 19, 2017, you met alone in the Oval Office with the president?”
Lewandowski responded: “Could you read the exact language of the report, sir? I don’t have it available to me.”
Nadler: “I don’t think I need to do that and I have limited time. Did you meet with the president on that date?”
Lewandowski: “Congressman, I’d like for you to refresh my memory by providing a copy of the report so I can follow along.”
Nadler stopped the clock for the hearing while staffers gave Lewandowski a book. Nadler again referred to volume 2, page 90.
Lewandowski: “Which paragraph, sir?”
Nadler: “I don’t have it in front of me.”
Eventually, the committee chairman asked: “How many times did the president ask you to meet him in the White House?”
Lewandowski said: “The White House has directed me not to disclose the substance of any discussions.”
2. ‘Harassment of This President’
Lewandowski, who turns 46 Wednesday, delivered a stern opening statement about what he said was lawmakers wasting time and money to push a nonexistent scandal.
“As the special counsel determined, there was no conspiracy or collusion between the Trump campaign and any foreign government, either on my watch or afterwards,” Lewandowski said, adding:
Not surprisingly, after the Mueller report was made public, interest in the fake Russia collusion narrative has fallen apart. In conclusion, and it’s sad to say, this country has spent over three years and 40 million in taxpayer dollars on these investigations. And it’s now clear that the investigations were populated by many Trump haters who had their own agenda, who wanted to take down a duly elected president of the United States.
As for actual collusion or conspiracy, there was none. What there has been, however, was harassment of this president from the day he won the election.
We as a nation would be better served if elected officials like yourself concentrated on your efforts to combat the true crises facing our country as opposed to going down rabbit holes like this hearing.
Instead of focusing on petty and personal politics, the committee [should] focus on solving the challenges of this generation—imagine how many people we could help or lives we could save.
3. Invoking Gump
Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., known for gimmicks and theatrics in questioning witnesses, invoked the Oscar-winning 1994 film “Forrest Gump,” about a man (played by Tom Hanks) who manages to be in the middle of nearly every historic situation during his lifetime.
“Could it be that [Trump] asked you to get the message to Sessions because he thought that you would do whatever he thought he asked, even if was illegal or immoral?” Cohen asked.
Before Lewandowski responded, Cohen went on to quote news articles that referred to him as an “enforcer” and a “right-hand man” for the president.
Cohen also brought up that Lewandowski previously worked for Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, who was convicted in 2007 on corruption charges.
“You are now involved in this,” Cohen said. “Either you were willing to break the law for politics and Mr. Trump, or you’re some kind of a Forrest Gump relating to corruption.”
“Did the president pick you as his enforcer because he thought you would play whatever role you wanted, even if it was illegal? Is that possibly why he chose you to take this message to Sessions?” Cohen asked.
Lewandowski answered: “That would be a question for the president, Congressman.”
4. ‘Packaging’ and ‘Product’
Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the committee’s ranking member, said the Russia story pushed by Democrats fell apart with delivery of the Mueller report. They then had to move on to other anti-Trump topics, in this case seeking impeachment for obstruction of justice.
“I’ve never seen a majority so amazed with packaging in all my life,” Collins said. “You know why? Because they can’t sell what’s inside. They can’t sell the product. So, they just keep packaging it differently.”
Aside from no impeachable offenses, Collins said, Democrats also don’t have math on their side.
“Here’s the problem: Seventeen members of the Judiciary Committee have said that they think the president ought to be impeached,” he said. “So, why are we still investigating it? The problem is, you don’t have the votes. You don’t have the numbers. Even if you got it out of this committee, you don’t have it on the floor. That’s your problem.”
The Georgia Republican said impeachment was a goal for many Democrats ever since Trump was elected.
“For most of them it happened in November of 2016, because they couldn’t believe that Donald Trump won, and they still can’t get over it today,” Collins said, adding:
It’s not investigating. It’s not doing oversight. This is certainly not being fair. But we like issuing subpoenas. We’re setting a world record at that—40 times faster than the previous chairman. We don’t want any answers, because we’re not willing to engage in dialogue to get information from folks.